[Libs-Or] A request to OLA re: "Yes, But..."
JScheppke at crooklib.org
Thu Nov 14 14:08:08 PST 2019
To OLA President Elaine Hirsch, the members of the OLA Executive Board, and Libs-OR subscribers:
Like a lot of us, I've been chewing on the issues raised by Heather McNeil's OLA Quarterly article and the response on Libs-OR. I'm with Max, Meredith, Candise, Kirsten, and others who have respectfully criticized McNeil's article on the basis of its quality, its centering of white discomfort over the needs of a diverse patron base, and its singling out of Dr. Debbie Reese and the authors of Reading While White. To those emails, I'd like to add a respectful request to Elaine Hirsch, the OLA board, the editors of the OLA Quarterly:
Please issue a public apology directly to Dr. Reese, the Reading While White bloggers, and others who were specifically targeted by the article or who were harmed by the inclusion of McNeil's article in the OLA Quarterly.
Just to give you an idea of where I'm coming from: at my library's Staff Development Day, I gave a presentation to our staff on how principles of equity and empathy can be used when staff enforce library policies. One of the things addressed was how to make a genuine apology without doing the insincere-celebrity-on-Twitter "I'm sorry you were offended" thing. To summarize the general research consensus, mastering the art of saying sorry is essential to creating an institutional culture where everyone feels accepted and heard.
For the purposes of the training, I defined an acceptable apology along the lines of this framework from Dr. Guy Winch in Psychology Today (article here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201311/the-five-ingredients-effective-apology). There are a lot of different "how-tos" on effective apologizing, but they basically all include variations on the elements defined by Dr. Winch:
A clear "I’m sorry" statement.
An expression of regret for what happened.
An acknowledgment that social norms or expectations were violated.
An empathy statement acknowledging the full impact of our actions on the other person.
A request for forgiveness.
Dr. Winch continues: "The most important of these five ingredients and sadly, the one we tend to omit most often, is the empathy statement. In order for the other person to truly forgive us, they need to feel as though we 'get' the full implications of our actions on them." In other words, for an apology to come off as sincere, the apologizer needs to explicitly name the harm that was done -- and in the institutional context, to whom.
I appreciated Elaine Hirsch's statement taking responsibility for the issue of the Quarterly in question, for apologizing for the "impact and distress" caused by Heather McNeil's article, and her guarantee that the OLA Quarterly would work towards strengthening its editorial standards. Three weeks into this, however, we still haven't heard anything from OLA that could be described as an empathy statement directed to the people who were specifically targeted/harmed by this article.
And yes, specific people were harmed. That's not a point of debate. You could accurately say that OLA and the Oregon library community in general was harmed -- as Hirsch's letter did, implicitly -- but casting the net that widely makes the issue seem like a philosophical abstraction. It isn't. Scores of library staff on Libs-OR, Twitter, and in the library community at large have made statements specifically saying how Heather's article was harmful to them. In particular, Dr. Reese has written extensively on Twitter about how Heather's article misrepresented and insulted her personally.
To ignore her voice and others is to reinforce the well-justified idea that the Oregon library community actively suppresses and ignores the voices of BIPOC and others who are minorities within the library profession. At the very least, the absence of a sufficient apology from the Oregon Library Association creates the impression that OLA's official stance on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion is to have no stance at all.
And so I'm asking President Hirsch, the board, the Communications Committee, and/or anyone else who could be considered to be "in charge" to make thorough and thoughtful public apologies to Dr. Debbie Reese and the authors of the Reading While White blog for the inclusion of "Yes, But..." in the Quarterly. Additionally, I think OLA owes an apology to the other people who submitted articles to the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion issue. McNeil's article diverted well-deserved attention from a lot of valuable articles. It also effectively (if totally unfairly) lowered the value of those articles -- both because the inclusion of the article called the OLAQ's professionalism and authority into question, and because running the article at the end of the issue created the impression that McNeil had been granted the privilege of having the last word. This list is not comprehensive, but that's because it's just the beginning.
What I'm proposing here is just one way OLA can communicate its values to its membership while also righting a serious wrong. I hope that the executive board and others will consider it. Personally, as an OLA member since 2013 I want to be sure I know what the Oregon Library Association stands for or doesn't stand for. I'd like to be able to consider that when my membership comes up for renewal.
Jane F. Scheppke, MLIS
Assistant Director of Library Services, Crook County Library
Preferred pronouns: she/her
175 NW Meadow Lakes Drive
Prineville, OR 97754
541-447-7978 ext. 316
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